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November 23, 2019

Where Does $100 to Freedom From Religion Go?

by Anne Paddock

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.                                                                             ~First Amendment

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) whose primary purpose is to promote the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, which makes so much sense because the USA is home to Christians (Protestants and Catholics), Jews, Mormons, Buddhists, Islamics, Hindus, Agnostics, Atheists, and more. And, yet the battle to keep religion and government separate is on-going because some members of the religious right and other religious orders are intent on pushing their beliefs upon others who do not share the same religious beliefs.

Established in 1978, the FFRF is based in Madison, Wisconsin is a national membership association with approximately 31,000 members whose focus is on educating the public and taking legal action when violations occur because “the founders who wrote the U.S. Constitution wanted citizens to be free to support the church of their choice, or no religion at all. Our Constitution was very purposefully written as a godless document, whose only references to religion are exclusionary.”

The IRS Form 990 (2018) reports the following key information about FFRF:


Total revenue was $5.9 million – up $600,000 from the year before – and came from four (4) sources:

  • $3.9 million (66%):  Contributions, Gifts, and Grants
  • $1.3 million (22%):  Membership Dues
  • $0.5 million (8%):  Investment Income and Gains
  • $0.2 million (3%):  Miscellaneous

As illustrated above, contributions, gifts, and grants is the largest source of income followed by membership dues. Dues range from $25 for a student, $40 for an individual, $50 for a household, and up to $10,000 for an individual beyond the after life.  FFRF reportedly has more than 32,000 members.


FFRf spent $5.4 million in 2018, which equates to 92% of revenue. The remaining revenue – $500,000 was applied to the general fund which help offset $700,000 in net unrealized losses on investments.

Expenses can be looked at two ways:  by broad general categories (i.e. program services, grants, management and general expenses, and fundraising) or by specific line item categories (i.e. compensation, grants, office-related, advertising and promotion, etc). Both ways provide information about expenses with the latter approach providing more specific information.

Expenses by Broad General Categories

$5.4 million in expenses was spent in the following categories:

  • $4.7 million (80% of revenue):  Program Services
  • $0.1 million (2% of revenue):  Grants
  • $0.5 million (8% of revenue):  Management and General Expenses
  • $0.1 million (2% of revenue):  Fundraising

Using the above information, $100 in revenue was spent as follows:

$100:  Revenue

-$ 80:  Program Services

-$  2:  Grants

-$  8:  Management and General Expenses

-$  2:  Fundraising

-$ 92:  Total Expenses

$  8:  Revenue Remaining:  To General Fund

As illustrated above $82 out of every $100 in revenue was spent on program services and grants. $10 out of every $100 was spent on Management and General Expenses and Fundraising.

Expenses by Specific Line Item Categories

$5.4 million in expenses was spent in the following categories

  • $2.1 million (36% of revenue):  Compensation
  • $1.7 million (29% of revenue):  Advertising and Promotion, Broadcasting, Freethinking Today
  • $0.6 million (10% of revenue):  Office-related Expenses
  • $0.4 million (7% of revenue):  Travel and Conferences
  • $0.3 million (5% of revenue):  Other Expenses
  • $0.2 million (3% of revenue):  Fees for Services (i.e. legal, accounting, lobbying)
  • $0.1 million (2% of revenue):  Grants

Compensation was the highest expense for FFRF. 44 employees were compensated $2.1 million which equates to an average compensation of $47,700.  The organization is co-managed by two employees – Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker – who serve as Co-Presidents (and are married). Gaylor and Barker received total compensation of $120,706 each.

The second highest expense was primarily for advertising and promotion ($1.1 million of the $1.7 million) which was used for billboards, ads in newspapers, and a 30-second television spot.

Using the above information, $100 in revenue was spent as follows:

$100:  Revenue

-$ 36:  Compensation

-$ 29: Advertising and Promotion, Broadcasting, FreeThinking Today

-$ 10:  Office-related Expenses

-$  7:  Travel and Conferences

-$  5:  Other Expenses

-$  3:  Fees for Services (i.e. legal, accounting, lobbying)

-$  2:  Grants

-$ 92:  Total Expenses

 $  8:  Revenue Remaining:  To General Fund

As illustrated above, the two largest expenses for FFRF is for compensation for the employees and Advertising/Promotion, Broadcasting, and the publication of FreeThinking Today.

To read the IRS Form 990 (2018), click here.

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